Ugly hatred – 09 Mar 2023

In recent years, Pakistan has slipped even further down when it comes to celebrating religious inclusivity. A rising regressive mindset over decades, nurtured by cynical politics, has led to the erosion of tolerance and diversity – even at educational spaces, which should be free of such perceptions and biases. This week, students at Punjab University – students from Sindh including Hindu students – held a small-scale Holi event to celebrate the religious event of Hindus, a minority community in Pakistan. What should have been a joyful occasion turned violent after members of a political student organization took it upon themselves to police a cultural event important to a minority community, attacking the participants. The situation was not better in Karachi either. Videos on social media suggest that some students were beaten and stopped from celebrating the Holi festival at Karachi University.

Almost every government sends out messages of peace and harmony during religious festivals of Pakistan’s minority communities. But each successive government has not gone beyond lip service when minorities are met with violence. This problem is not limited to schools. We have seen how even politicians use derogatory language against Hindus – a convenient bogeyman for right-wing parties and politicians. Such incidents show the extent of the problem and call for authorities to introspect over where the country has gone wrong and what we have become.

Educational institutions should ideally be spaces where students can meet people from different religions, ethnicities, and social backgrounds and form a united front. These places are supposed to promote tolerance and inter-faith harmony, allowing people to get to know about different cultures. Over the years, there have been organized campaigns to eliminate any pluralism from public spaces in the country. Political parties also use religion to subtly promote regressive values among the youth and then smartly distance themselves from any violent incidents – blaming the victim instead. Religious minorities have the constitutional right to celebrate their lives in all its shapes and forms in this country, and it is the state’s responsibility to make them feel protected in the place they call home. We need to start right from the grassroots level and promote a message of tolerance, diversity and pluralism at the school level to help make a tolerant Pakistan.

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